The REI Flexlite Air Chair is a portable camping chair that is lightweight and compact enough to take backpacking. Weighing 16.2 oz (459 g), it’s definitely a luxury item, but one that is easy to rationalize if you want to hang out around the campfire, read outdoors, or sit on top of a rocky mountain peak to admire the view (which is what I’m doing above). I don’t think it’s as good a product as the slightly heavier Helinox Chair Zero (see our full review) but it is a very close second and less expensive.
Specs at a Glance
- Weight: 16.2 oz / 459 g
- Material: Aluminum, Ripstop nylon
- Seat Height: 11 inches
- Unfolded dimensions: 19 x 22 x 22 inches
- Weight Capacity: 250 lbs
- Packed Dimensions: 16″ x 5″
- Price: $99.95
The REI Flexlight Air Chair is a lightweight portable backpacking chair that weighs 16.2 oz and packs up surprisingly small. Before I bought it, I convinced myself that I’d rather sit on a rock or a fallen tree when cooking dinner on backpacking trips or bring a small foam pad to sit on instead. While that does work, it’s really not as satisfying or relaxing as having a chair to sit on for stargazing, hanging out in camp with friends, or just watching the clouds float by.
The Flexlite Air Chair includes a storage sack, a single collapsible shock-corded aluminum pole like a tent, and a sling-like seat. It’s dead simple to set up or pack away. The entire package is about the size of a 1L Smartwater bottle and it can easily fit horizontally or vertically in most multi-day backpacks.
The chair has sling-style seat with four reinforced corners that fit over the ends of the poles when attaching it to the frame, making it dead simple to assemble manually without any tools. Dimensionally, the Flexlite Air is chair is 19 inches wide, 22 inches high in the rear, and has a depth of 22 inches measured from the front of the seat to the farthest most point of the backrest. But the fabric of the seat doesn’t have a lot of stretch in it though so you might, depending on the size of your butt, feel a bit of your squeeze when you sit on it. I know I do, but it’s not uncomfortable.
The legs also have a tendency to sink into sand or soft earth so it’s best if the chair is placed on a flat rock or the solid rock dust found on many campsites. This is a nearly universal problem with chairs of this type, but it’s exacerbated by the fact that the plastic tips at the ends of the Flex Air lite are smaller than on most other chairs.
One solution is to cut holes in practice golf balls (looks like a wiffle ball) and fit them over the leg-ends. We also reviewed a product recently called Chair Buddies that clip over the leg-ends and help prevent sinking quite effectively.
Unfortunately, REI does not offer any add-on products to keep the Flexlite Air chair from sinking like the Helinox Chair Zero Groundsheet. That does cost extra, but at least it works. So does setting the chair on a piece of cardboard from what I understand, although it’s less practical to carry on a backpacking trip.
The Flexlite Air Chair has a seat height of 11″ which can be difficult to stand up from if you’re not limber. However, the Helinox Chair Zero has a 9″ chair height which is even lower. Despite this difference, I feel that the Chair Zero is more stable and has less play in its pole structure than the Flexlite Air. Because it’s lower to the ground, it’s also harder to tip over, especially on uneven or rocky ground.
The REI Flexlite Air Chair and the Helinox Chair Zero are astonishingly similar in design and assembly. While I’ve accentuated their differences in this review, they’re much more subtle than meets the eye unless you used both products as extensively as I have. While I do prefer the Helinox Chair Zero over the REI Flexlite Air Chair, the latter is perfectly suitable for trail use as long as you understand its limitations and the limitations of ultralight backpacking chairs in general. Put another way, my companions and I still carry both chairs on our backpacking trips and take them to the swimming hole to sit by the water on hot days. For all functional purposes, they’re interchangeable, which I can’t say about all of the ultralight backpacking chairs from other manufacturers that are available today.
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